Pastor Column, Fourth Sunday of Easter: May 12, 2019
Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
It is several weeks since Easter. We have returned to the ordinary part of our lives, the way we live most of the year, beginning to look ahead and begin summer planning. We are “back home” after the Resurrection. We need guidance, someone to walk with us and speak to us as we go along, lest we wander off. What a wonderful image then, we encounter in today’s Gospel with the shepherding Christ. The Scriptures are filled with images for God and Christ. Each image conveys some reality about who God is to us – God is rock, liberator, ruler, creator, father, mother, etc. In John’s Gospel, there are ample images for who Jesus is to us – truth, way, life, bread, living water, among others. Each suggests some facet of our relationship with him, each tries to help us catch and understand the depth of the reality of Christ in our lives.
The Shepherd image suggests a profound relationship: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me, in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father.” The bond between the Shepherd and us is likened to the bond that exists between Christ and the Father. Does this powerful expression of intimacy with us encourage us to trust Christ each step of the journey, both in tough times and the easier ones?
This gospel reading presents, what may be the (or one of the) earliest image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This representation of Jesus was used even before that of the crucifix; perhaps because there was so much ignominy and shame associated with the way Jesus was killed. The image of Jesus carrying the lost sheep on his shoulder was an early, if not the first, image embraced by the early Church. It is such a pastoral image that it risks becoming a romanticized presentation of Jesus. But the passage suggests a less-than-peaceful setting. There is the danger of the ravenous wolf coming to snatch and scatter the sheep. The first part of the passage suggests a life and death situation. But other things are suggested as well.
Sheep get hungry; the trip is long and we need food to be sustained. Today and at every Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, we come aside for a while to eat, to hear God’s nourishing Word (the Shepherd’s voice) and be fed with the food for travelers. We need a sense of direction, we need to hear His voice so as not to get lost, discouraged or burdened by guilt.
So the Shepherd speaks to us. These are not words that beat us down or discourage, but words that draw us together from our various side‑trips, solitary treks, and detours, to a renewal of a common vision. That really is what Jesus wants: that we don’t get lost, seeing ourselves “out there” on our own as individual Christians. What God does through His Word is to remind us we are a community traveling together. Despite the fractiousness that seems to grow more devise in our country each day, we unite ourselves to the Lord when we come together. We are distracted by so many visions and sights along the way that divide us, cause us to evaluate each other by another standard. Here, in the presence of the Shepherd speaking to us, we can see more clearly our true identities as followers of the same Shepherd. We can look at each other with appreciation, for we can see around us at this Eucharist others who have heard the voice and are trying to follow it with us.